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Gay Is Good: The Letters of Franklin Kameny

Gay Is Good: The Letters of Franklin Kameny

Barbara Gittings 1965X633 0
Kameny to Barbara Gittings

Kameny had long been talking with Mattachine Society of Washington and Mattachine Society of New York members about the possibility of public demonstrations for homosexual rights, and on April 16, 1965, just three days before he wrote the aforementioned letter, he had received calls from Randy Wicker (Charles Hayden Jr.) of the Homosexual League and MSW member Jack Nichols about staging picket lines in New York and Washington. Recent news coverage on Fidel Castro’s plans to put homosexuals into labor camps precipitated the calls.

Kameny was “dubious” about picketing in Washington. “There’s no Cuban embassy,” he thought, and “it seemed to stretch logic to picket the White House of the US government to protest an action taken by the Cuban government.” But Nichols and his lover, Lige Clarke, were insistent, and Kameny eventually relented, saying he would support picketing the White House “if the Cuban issue and our own grievances could be suitably combined.” Kameny then called MSNY members and “told them to picket at the Cuban mission to the UN.”

Kameny immediately began crafting the pickets’ message to target discrimination against homosexuals in both Cuba and the United States, and Nichols and Clarke began stenciling the pickets and rounding up activists to march at the White House the following day.

On April 17, 1965, ten well-dressed picketers, carrying carefully stenciled pickets, demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the White House to protest the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba and especially the United States. The neatly lettered placards included the following messages: “15 Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment”; “Governor Wallace Met with Negroes, Our Government Won’t Meet With Us”; “Cuba’s Government Persecutes Homosexuals, U.S. Government Beat Them to It”; We Want: Federal Employment, Honorable Discharges, Security Clearances”; “U.S., Cuba, Russia, United to Persecute Homosexuals”; and “U.S. Claims No Second Class Citizens: What About Homosexuals?”

Dear Barbara: ...
April 17 section of letter dated April 12, 1965


I’m writing this, very very wearily, and very very contentedly, after returning from home following a ten-person picketing — officially by the Mattachine Society of Washington — of the White House. There were 7 men and 3 women.

While, on two instances (by the same lone person, about a year apart) the White House has been picketed, in our cause, by one person alone, this is the first time that there has been any kind of mass picketing, and the first time by a homophile organization. ...

Because there were several tens of thousands of students in Washington today to picket against the Vietnam War, we had to schedule our demonstration after they were out of the way. As it came off, it ran from 4:20 to 5:20 PM. We were given a choice spot, directly in front of the White House. The police — both White House police and Metropolitan police — were courteous and helpful. The police had been informed in advance. The newspapers had also been informed in advance. . . .

Fondly, Frank

While the demonstration attracted the attention of hundreds of tourists, some of whom took pictures, the only press to cover the event (other than MSW and MSNY publications) was the Washington Afro-American. Despite the lack of national media attention, however, the event was historic. As the Eastern Mattachine Magazine, a joint publication of MSNY and MSW, described it: “It was the first demonstration in the nation’s capital by a homophile organization for the rights and liberties of homosexual citizens.”

The following day, Easter Sunday, twenty-nine picketers from MSNY, the Demophile Center of Boston, the Homosexual League of New York, and the League for Sexual Freedom marched from the MSNY offices on Broadway, up Fifth Avenue (where the Easter parade was in full bloom), and across town to the United Nations. Targeting Castro’s policy, the picketers’ signs included the following messages: “15,000,000 U.S. Homosexual Citizens Protest Cuba’s Actions”; “Labor Camps Today — Ovens Tomorrow?”; and “Individual Freedom — Si! Persecution — No!” The demonstrators marched for two hours, also handing out flyers protesting the Cuban government’s treatment of homosexuals. A passerby wearing a mink stole and an Easter bonnet remarked: “You know, when you’re as disliked as homosexuals, it takes a lot of guts to stand up for your rights.”

Kameny was not satisfied with the publicity given to the White House demonstration. He recalled, “We wanted another crack at it, with publicity, so we started planning right away for another picket in six weeks.” Kameny began to chair MSW’s new Committee on Picketing and Other Lawful Demonstrations, drafting guidelines and rules for the pickets, and writing press releases for the next White House march. And on May 29, thirteen protestors picketed the White House once again, their placards targeting discriminatory policies in the U.S. government (“Government Should Combat Prejudice, Not Submit to It and Promote It”). This time, the national press paid attention, and wire stories by AP and UPI appeared in newspapers across the country, including the
New York Times, the Washington Star, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

New York activist Craig Rodwell was at the second march and suggested the protesters keep the momentum going by marching every Fourth of July in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “We can call it the Annual Reminder — the reminder that a group of Americans still don’t have their basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Rodwell stated. Kameny, Nichols, and the other marchers readily agreed and started plans for the first Annual Reminder in July 1966.

A couple of weeks after the second White House protest, Kameny referred to himself as “the prime moving force in these demonstrations,” while at the same time noting that the “actual spark” had come from others (namely, Wicker in New York and Clarke and Nichols in Washington).

Bill Mauldin NYWTS LIBraryofcongressX633 0
Kameny to William Mauldin

In a brief report on the fad of long hair, Time quoted fifteen-year-old David Mauldin as saying, “My father thinks it makes me look like a faggot.” His father was Bill Mauldin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist whose most famous characters, GIs Willie and Joe, had lightened the hearts of millions during World War II.

September 29, 1965

Dear Mr. Mauldin:

In Time magazine (October 1, 1965), page 54, your son David is quoted as using the word “faggot” to refer to a homosexual, and as attributing the usage to you, as well. Writing as a homosexual, I wish to take issue on two counts.

First — I am sure that you did not bring up your son to use words such as “nigger,” “kike,” “wop,” etc., in referring to Negroes, Jews, Italians, etc. Words such as “faggot,” “queer” and the like are in the same class, and are equally offensive to our homosexual citizens.

You are expressing, here, against a very large group of people, a prejudice in the same class with that held by the rapid segregationist Southerner, by the anti-Semite and the Nazi, by the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” in the worst sense, and by others of similar ilk.

I write as a homosexual American citizen — proud of all three words. I fought in the front lines of the same war in which you fought and which you depicted so well. The comment attributed to your son and to you is not very consistent with the ideas expressed so ably and so admirably by you in other places at other times.

Second — Your son states that you claimed that he “looks like a faggot.” Exactly what does a “faggot” look like? I should hardly need to point out to you that homosexuals are as totally heterogeneous a group (aside from their sexual preferences, in the narrowest sense) as are Negroes and Jews (aside from their skin color and their religious beliefs, in the narrowest sense). Generalizations and stereotypes of the sort implied in your statement are the stuff out of which prejudice and discrimination are fashioned.

In our country, as I certainly hardly need to point out to you, we have individual Negro people, Jewish, Catholic people — and homosexual people. We are all entitled to our dignity and to our respect; to our place as first-class citizens and first-class human beings; to our right to be different, one from another, without thereby being the recipients of prejudice, discrimination, contempt and ridicule.

This is what you and I both fought a war for. ...

In closing, I should point out that statements such as yours are part of what some of us refer to as “the liberal syndrome” — liberals will stand up for the rights of all minorities, stand up for any underdog, vigorously protest discrimination and prejudice wherever they occur, stand up for the inherent dignity of all people — but let the question of homosexuals and homosexuality arise and — “Well, somehow that’s a different question.”

It isn’t a different question at all!

I would appreciate your response and comments. Thank you.

Sincerely yours, Franklin E. Kameny

Mauldin replied that Time was quoting “my young son reading my mind, which is a pretty far-out quote, even for Time,” and that he did not “recall using words like ‘faggot’ in front of my children.”


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